Yesterday's race at the whitewater park (part of the Southern Classic Series and a fundraiser for our local club the Tarheel Trailblazers) was a rough one for me. I know the trails pretty well, and being close to the house is an added bonus. After taking a bunch of time off the bike from my trip down to the Lowcountry I thought my legs would feel fresh. I was wrong. They felt like shit so I warmed up thoroughly and felt much better. I also opted to carry only one water bottle instead of my normal two, since there are very few places that would afford the opportunity to grab a drink. This would bite me in the ass later.
We lined up at the bottom of the hill, seven deep in my class. My only strategy was to get in the woods first to make everyone work to pass me.
Photo cred: Mike Long
I sprinted up the hill (nearly busting my ass on the loose gravel in the process), and hit the woods in first place. I was wearing my sunglasses and the trail was really dark so I couldn't see where I was going at all. A guy went by me and just like that I was second place but feeling good.
On a sorta flat section I took my glasses off and put them in my pocket, immediately improving my vision. We hit the first "technical" trail, The Carpet, and I started climbing on the wheel of first place. As the trail pointed downhill, I gunned it and bounced around from my failure to check my tire pressure. My (only) water bottle ejected and landed on the trail somewhere.
I kept pushing, knowing that I wouldn't be able to make up the time if I stopped. The trail leveled out again and I put the hammer down. In the back of my mind though was the thought of me trying to ride two laps in the heat with no water. Another guy passed me and I was solidly in third place. We finished that trail, hit a few flat sections and headed towards Goat Hill. As the trail went up, I stood up to mash, slipped on something, and immediately hit the ground. Another guy went by. I was having quite the shitty day so far and not even three miles in.
At this point I would've had about a third of my water consumed, and that kept messing with me. Another guy passed me when I was thinking about that, but I saw the leaders not far ahead and came up with a plan...
just hang in there until the second lap.
I was riding pretty well I guess (other than having too much air pressure in my tires) and before I knew it lap one was over. My legs felt good so I decided to start looking for my bottle when I got back to that spot. I climbed a bit, and on the descent I looked around and didn't see it. I stopped, got off my bike, and looked around. Still nothing. Another guy passed me, and another. Who gives a shit. I knew that I needed something to drink if I had any hope of finishing that lap. I gave up, hopped back on my bike and decided to tough it out.
It sorta worked. Eventually I passed one guy in my class as he stopped on the side of the trail for a break. This would be a recurring theme for a while, with him even offering me a drink at one point. Eventually he passed me back for good as I went into survival mode. I was cramping, and crashed two more times somewhere along the way ( one was on the Carpet trail, the other I don't exactly remember.) I was in a daze, hallucinating, dizzy, and thought for sure I would pass out. I was determined to get out of there and finish the race, and luckily I was on autopilot. After a while I spotted a crowd on the side of the trail and "yelled" to them, "How much further?"
All I heard was laughter, which was appropriate since I was only a few hundred yards from the finish line. Dumbass. I crossed the finish line and pulled over off the course. I wanted to get something to drink from my truck but couldn't remember where I parked. I faintly heard someone calling out my name and when I turned around it was...
Tom F., Texas Ranger.
He talked to me some more but I didn't really hear him. He suddenly disappeared, returning quickly with a cold bottle of a popular sports drink. He saved the day, and after a few minutes I started feeling sorta human again.
Then I remembered that I crashed a bunch and it kinda hurt.
My knee was swollen, I was bleeding and dirty, but for some reason when it was all over I actually had fun. Even though I had a shitty day results-wise I was glad to be out there. Racing is sometimes about results, but for me it's about pushing myself when I otherwise wouldn't.
And I wouldn't trade that experience for anything.